March 24, 2020

DEP Snapshot: It’s 1979,
Series of Initiatives Spearheaded in ‘Year of Hazardous Waste’

(20/S010) – Superheroes hail from all sorts of places: Clark Kent from Smallville (though born on the planet Krypton), Bruce Wayne from Gotham City, and Melvin Ferd from Tromaville.

Just about everyone knows the alter egos of Superman and Batman.

Toxic Advenger Poster

Never heard of Melvin? The unlikely fictional superhero is a skinny nerd who works as a janitor at a health club in the fictional New Jersey municipality of Tromaville, a town terrorized by criminals. Club members continually bully Melvin and one day, as he is being tormented, he falls out a second-story window – right into a drum of toxic waste.

The chemicals transform him into a hideously deformed creature, but one who is gifted with superhuman strength. Melvin becomes the Toxic Avenger – “doer of good and brutal mauler of evil,” according to Troma Entertainment, which produced the 1984 spoof film, “The Toxic Avenger.”

Kind of an appropriate superhero for New Jersey, when you reach back 41 years in the DEP’s history.

And now, a look at 1979 …

It was “The Year of Hazardous Waste.” Yes, that is how 1979 was described in the 1980 DEP Annual Report.

WasteIn August 1979, then-Governor Brendan Byrne appointed a Hazardous Waste Advisory Commission composed of representatives from government, industry, academia and the general public. The move was a major component of a broader suite of hazardous waste initiatives that followed a series of high-profile environmental disasters, the most notorious being the 1978 Love Canal disaster in neighboring New York state.

Other initiatives included the organization of a strike force to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of illegal dumping; an increase in criminal penalties for such activities; increased inspections of hazardous waste facilities; and legislation such as amendments to the state’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, which expanded the DEP’s regulatory authority over legacy toxic waste sites and abandoned landfills.

WasteBy 1981, the Hazardous Waste Strike Force had handled 170 investigations, resulting in 47 individuals and 24 corporations indicted or convicted. On the federal level, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, better known as “Superfund.” This law was authored by then-U.S. Representative James J. Florio, who would go on to serve as New Jersey’s governor from 1990 to 1994.